Summary:

A new American Library Association study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shows that over two-thirds of U.S. public libraries n…

Libraries & E-Books 2011
photo: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study

A new American Library Association study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shows that over two-thirds of U.S. public libraries now offer access to e-books–a 30 percent increase since 2007. Announcements coming out of the ALA’s Annual Conference, which started yesterday in New Orleans, revealed some of the expanded digital offerings you can expect to see at a library near you.

Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) has announced a partnership with distributor Baker & Taylor to “build awareness among Nook customers that digital books are available for loan from local libraries” through Baker & Taylor’s new library lending platform, Axis 360. Starting this fall, patrons of libraries that use Axis 360 will be able to borrow books on their Nooks (and any other e-readers that support EPUB). Axis 360 will link to Barnes & Noble’s website so that users can buy the books they check out from the library. The platform also provides access to digital audiobooks and includes a reviews module that will share patrons’ reviews and star ratings across libraries using Axis 360.

Amazon’s Kindle will start supporting library lending this fall. Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is working with OverDrive, which is currently the leading digital distributor for libraries (and a competitor for Baker & Taylor’s new Axis 360).

Although Axis 360 is the newer program, it could have an advantage in that Baker & Taylor has been distributing physical books to libraries for years. Axis 360 will allow librarians to order titles as physical/digital bundles. And libraries using Axis 360 will receive a year’s worth of Library Journal and School Library Journal reviews for free.

Meanwhile, digital magazine platform Zinio announced a partnership with audiobooks producer Recorded Books to distribute its magazine titles into libraries in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. “Zinio for Libraries” will let public library patrons read Zinio magazines from their home computers using their library cards. But they will not be able to read the magazines using the Zinio app on iPads or smartphones. Zinio provides access to over 4,500 magazines, but participating libraries will be able to choose which titles to make available to patrons.

Despite new technologies hitting the market, it’s worth noting here that the ALA study also revealed flat or decreased budgets at 60 percent of libraries, particularly those in urban areas. And 16 percent of libraries reported decreased operating hours, which could lead patrons to seek more digital library offerings from home even as there is less funding to pay for those services.

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